Owners of empty homes in Southwark will be forced to pay double council tax after it was discovered over 500 properties are currently unoccupied in the borough.
While nearly 20,000 people wait to be housed by the council, it was revealed last week that 536 private homes in the borough have been sitting empty for at least two years.
Tessa Jowell, who has recently put affordable housing at the centre of her campaign to become London Mayor told the News there should be “no loopholes and no excuses” for owners of empty homes in Southwark.
“Absentee owners should live in the house they own or sell up. If they don’t they should face uncapped charges until they do,” she said.
The MP for Dulwich and West Norwood also echoed concerns raised by the Southwark Liberal Democrats when they tabled the motion to raise council tax for empty home owners, saying that luxury developments in Southwark are encouraging foreign investors to purchase ‘buy to leave’ properties.
“It cannot be right that the global super rich buy London homes like they are gold bars, as assets to appreciate rather than homes in which to live, whilst so many are unable to find a decent home,” she said
“Here in Southwark hundreds of homes have been lying empty for years, whilst at the same time thousands of people are stuck in temporary accommodation, on social housing waiting lists, or years of saving short of buying their first home. That has to change,” she added.
To clamp down on empty home owners, the council approved a motion to charge 200 percent council tax – up from the current 150 percent – after a property has been unoccupied for one year, instead of two.
This is not a new problem to Southwark. In 2013 the council released figures showing that 2,668 private sector properties were vacant and 853 of those had been empty for more than six months.
Council leader, Peter John, said Southwark has been quick to act, though, and was one of the first councils in the country to set a higher rate of council tax for second and long-term empty homes when it was introduced in 2013.
“We think more could be done to tackle empty homes, which is why we are supporting calls for local authorities to be given more powers to tackle long-term empty homes, and we are reviewing all current exemptions to explore whether we can increase the number of empty homes in the borough that are charged council tax,” said Cllr John.
“However tackling empty homes on its own won’t solve the housing crisis that is happening across London, which is why in Southwark we are also committed to building more new homes of every type, including 1,500 new council homes which will be delivered by 2018.”